Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Get More Bang for Your Food Budget Buck Part VI: Getting Portion Sizes Under Control

It's been awhile since I have had the time to post to the series, so let me dust off my keyboard here...

*blows on keyboard, dust cloud results. Cough! Cough!* 

If you are just tuning in, I've been talking about practical ways to stretch your food budget with practical tips and small changes that will produce big results over time. Kind of a get rich slowly mentality. Anyway, let's get started.

Today I am going to talk to you about portion control. Wait, wait! Don't go back to Bookface yet. I know a few of you balked when I talked about adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet and beefing up recipes by substituting vegetables for some of the meat. It will be okay, just hear me out and take it under consideration.

Everywhere you turn, you hear about how much we over eat. That is no surprise. But what are some of the reasons we overeat? Aside from the efficiency of getting tasty grub down our gullets, portion size is another major contributor. I hear people all the time talk about how their grandfather ate bacon, eggs, and gravy covered biscuits everyday for breakfast, followed by a big hunk of meat and potatoes for dinner every day for 50 years and didn't have a lick of health problems. He could eat those things and still maintain a healthy rate for several reasons: 
  • Grandpa wasn't sitting in front of a computer/TV 10 hours a day. He probably had a labor intensive job at a factory, shipyard, mine, or farm where he could work off a lot of those calories.
  • Entertainment usually involved outdoor activities (exercise), and walking places was a lot more common than driving.
  • Finally, portion sizes in the United States have steadily increased from the 1950's. Grandpa was probably having a plate full of meat, potatoes, and butter soaked vegetables, but a standard dinner plate back then was around 9 inches. So, he was actually eating less than he would if he were eating off dinner plates manufactured today which are around 12 inches. 
Here's a visual:

                                                          Image courtesy of

Naturally, the same sized portion of steak will look much smaller on the 12 inch plate than it would on the 9 inch plate. This optical illusion tricks us into adding more food on our plates, and consequently, eating more calories. This is a lot why a lot of schools and cafeterias style restaurants have removed lunch trays because it reduces waste (saves money) and forces people consume less. (Because they can no longer pile the tray high with extra helpings, eat until they are stuffed, and throw out what they don't/can't eat.) My step dad used to say that when he was in Vietnam, all the mess halls had signs that said, "Take all you want, eat all you take. This was a food conservation slogan used in the United States armed forces starting in 1943, during World War II. I'm sure kids and young adults now days have never heard this. It's still an important message today, but for different reasons. I think they are taught "More is always better."
It finally sank in a few years ago for me, after hearing two different men talk about weight loss in the same way. Both men talked about how they had to change their mentality regard food to conquer their overeating. One talked about how we are taught from a very earlier age in this country that everything is a limited commodity. (Last chance to save! This deal is running out! Hurry! Don't miss out! Buy now, limited time only!) Because of this, we act impulsively. We covet. Don't think this applies to food? What about the McRib? (Which, by the way has it's own Facebook page and locator website!) No? What about Girl Scout cookies? I mean who would normally go to the grocery store and by 15 boxes of cookies at once?

Ugh, thin mints.
His point was that if we continue to see food as something that will be of limited availability, we will naturally hoarde consume more. Now, before you get on a high horse about people around the country not having enough food, yes, I know there are people who cannot. However, the average American  family can go out any buy more food when they need it.

The second man was very obese before his "I can always get more food" realization. I wish I could find his blog to let him tell his own story, but alas, it is lost to the interwebs. Basically, he talked about how he would sit at a meal with his family, eat his first plate quickly, with his mind looking forward to the second plate. As if the first plate of food was an obstacle that had to be overcome to get to his "real meal". After the second plateful, he would eat off his wife's plate or kid's plate. After many arguments with his wife about this, he finally snapped to the "I can always get more" mentality. When he came to accept that, he realized that there was no need to rush to the second helping, he could enjoy the first. The weight started to fall off right after that. Imagine, as a consequence, how much money they saved not having to buy as much food.

You have to keep telling yourself, "It's no big deal, I can always get more." This is the hardest obstacle to using smaller plates. This takes practice, I'm still working on it all these years later. Dessert and pizza are the hardest for me. I just have to keep telling myself that if I am still hungry when it is over, I can order another slice of cake, or get myself another pizza. However,  most times I don't because I feel too full. Once it starts to click, you will stop piling you plates as high, going back for seconds and thirds, and feeling more satisfied with the portion that you have taken. 

Personal story: When adding dishes to our wedding registry, I purposefully disregarded the saleswoman and registered for the 9 inch salad plate as our dinner plates, and the 12 inch plates as our "chargers". (As opposed to the 12 inch dinner plates with the 14 inch plate chargers.) A "normal-sized" dinner plate now looks like a 9 inch plate to us after only a few months. As a result, we save more money on food because we eat less and throw out less without really even trying. In addition, our waist lines are as thankful as our pocketbooks.

Give it a try and see how much you save in groceries. Let me know how it works out for you!

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